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Breaking Bread on Erev Shabbat

I have often wished I could make bread well enough to make Challah. Challah is the bread we break on Shabbat before Kiddish, the meal we celebrate ever Shabbat after services. A full service is 3 hours long and Jews like to socialize; so it is we like to have refreshments afterwards. As a matter of fact, I have to confess that many Jews observe Jewish Standard Time (i.e. come late), but I like to go on time because I love the feelings of the service and see no need to short change myself by only being there for when the Torah is being taken out of the Arc. Of course, I have my own way of being lazy: I rarely read the scriptures when they are being read. I simply listen to the Hebrew, which I speak very little of. Nonetheless, I do my best. I always feel there is something added to the service by having it in Hebrew. Hebrew–from what little I understand of it–is such a beautiful and poetic language. Yet I have only learned a few words and grammatical structures of it.

Anyway, the bread. Though it is not really for Shabbat, I made a loaf today. It is for Mom and me to share, and possibly anyone else who comes visiting. I would love it if I could get my friend Vlad to come over. The ingredients were:

4 cups All-Purpose Flour

3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour

2 teaspoons Salt

1 1/4 teaspoons Yeast

1 3/4 cups Water + More Water

The process is deceptively simple:

  1. You mix all the dry ingredients.
  2. You add 1 3/4 Water and mix, if necessary with your hands.
  3. If need be (and I always do), add more Water to make the bread dough moist. Mix, if necessary with your hands.
  4. Then you put the bread aside. In 15-minutes, you knead the dough again. You do this after 4 15-minute periods. Then wait 1 hour and knead again. Then wait 1 more hour, and knead one last time.
  5. Then turn the oven to 450 degrees.
  6. Grease a pan. I am not sufficiently talented as a cook to put the bread on the wrack without it coming out misshapen (real cooks can). So I simply use a loaf pan.
  7. Smooth the top of the bread with water so it will feel and look nice when you bring it out of the oven.
  8. Once the oven is heated, put the break in the oven for 35 minutes.
  9. Then take out of the oven and let sit for a while.

It is hard work. In fact, it compares being of equal difficulty as Smoked Salmon Soufflés, Eggplant Parmesan Soup, and Matzo Ball Soup. I really believe producing bread is an art form, and I think the guy who wrote the cookbook I use would agree. People only don’t appreciate freshly baked bread because once they are eaten so is the evidence of the chef’s real talent and industry.

With that in mind I will tell you one of my “bread” stories. At my synagogue Dee (a woman who has attended for years) mentioned a woman who used to go before she died who went the through the Holocaust. “She used to make these Challah breads that were like works of Art. I asked her to teach me how to make them, but she didn’t have a system. She would just mix ingredients that ‘felt’ right.” Indeed, that woman must have been a treasure. I am only sorry I never got to meet her. I did however write a story using her as one of the models, “Loaves of Love.” I admit that one of the Jews I sent the story was offended, but I did have a friend at Chabad who asked if it was a real person, and I believe someday I will find somebody who appreciates it… The generation who lived through the Holocaust is dying off, and perhaps though I have only met a few examples of it, my story will in a small way be my effort of lighting a candle on Yom HaShoah. Perhaps some day I will also be able to bake real Challah bread!

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Yet Two More School Shootings

First, I want to give my apologies about not writing about these two tragedies earlier. I am not really a journalist, but I feel like as a writer I have a special duty to speak after such tragedies. So here it goes: the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To show our love for the children of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, we must act. For if we do not act, our words are meaningless. No doubt that this has itself been said over and over since Sandy Hook in Connecticut. In my memory there was another such tragedy at Columbine in Colorado, though at that time these incidents were much rarer and I was in High School myself. The point is, we must act.

I myself plan to write both my senator and my house of representative member. They are Republicans, but perhaps there in one or both of them a conscience still waiting to be awakened. Also I will say a few prayers tonight. Sometimes I am forgetful about my prayers, but this time I shall try to say something about the innocent children being murdered while going to school. And I will leave this following scriptural quotation because in a sense it is so relevant to the collection of little corpses at two more schools:

Alas!

Lonely sits the city

Once great with people!

She that was great among nations

Is become a widow;

The princess among states

Is become a thrall.

Bitterly she weeps in the night,

Her cheek wet with tears.

There is none to comfort her

Of all her friends…

With their own hands, tenderhearted women

Have cooked their children;

Such became their fate,

In the disaster of my poor people…

But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever,

Your throne endures through the ages.

Why have You forgotten us utterly,

Forsaken us for all time?
Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself

And let us come back;

Renew our days of old!

Lamentations 1:1-2; 4:10; 5:19-21

Jews believe that it is possible to live in exile even while living in the Promised Land itself. So it is that perhaps as long as these shootings exist in America, the people live in exile, as described in Lamentations, with the Temple’s destruction being Lamentation’s major theme. We will rebuild our Temple with laws governing how guns can be used and who can use them… but we also need a rebirth of the soul, a recognition of the value of human beings which is the bases both of our various religious traditions and our shared civil religion.

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New Publications

I want to apologize to any fans I have because I have not written in so long. The truth is that I have been under the weather, largely due to the fact I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. I won’t go into any details, but being mentally ill can cause a person to neglect the social whirl in which people are expected to take part. However, I have read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and two of three volumes (I am 150 pages into the third) of The Cambridge History of Russia. And there is more.

I have published more of The Bible According to Eve with Urlinkpublishers.com. I already had The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah published. Now, available at Amazon.com, I have:

The Bible According to Eve: The Nevi’im I: The Histories: Eve in Search of Adam;

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im II: The Seers: Eve Supplants Lilith;

and The Bible According to Eve: The Ketuvim: Eve Struggles with God and Man and Prevails.

Each of these books break down a certain portion of the Hebrew Bible, and focusses on the stories of the women in those portions. I really believe in this “Book” and hope that somebody will pay money to read it. I also have a book coming out–it is not religious but political in nature:
Faust in Love

It is about politics and Donald Trump is a major character being debunked in the book. I consider myself rather left of center in religion and politics: not really a fan of AOC but absolutely incensed by the racism promoted by Fox network. Although I voted for Hillary Clinton above Donald Trump, in the primaries I voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary because I felt he had more character–this despite being ambivalent about “Democratic Socialism.” I genuinely like Joe Biden and voted for him, but sometimes the left pushes me farther than I want to go: I don’t understand exactly what the theory of Critical Race Theory says–I mean I don’t understand it, not that I object to it per se–and I guess I didn’t understand how anyone could want to ban Dr. Seuss or other classic kids books from the classroom.

You could argue, “Well, it is not like you are banning War and Peace?” but I believe children who read great books as kids grow up to be great readers as adults. Besides, children ought to have some freedom to choose their own kid’s books, even beyond what their parents think. I hope that doesn’t sound like I am a silly person who doesn’t understand what is going on in our nation or the world.

I am just socially a tad more conservative than the average Democrat is supposed to be–a Conservative Jew who still believes in the goodness of George Washington and the Founding Fathers besides Abraham Lincoln–and sometimes that bothers me. This is despite my firm commitment to the belief in the equality of all human beings–in the form of saying that immigrants coming to America deserve respect, as do our traditional minorities. I believe that was what Thomas Jefferson was trying to say in the Declaration of Independence. I don’t care that he didn’t always live up to it in his private life.

On My Perversity in Heroes

I am 2/3 of the way through Wellington: The Iron Duke, and I am afraid that I am perverse enough to prefer Napoleon to the Duke of Wellington. I cannot say the human race would have been better off if Napoleon had beaten Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, but I couldn’t help preferring the honest rogue passionately in love with or passionately cheating on his Josephine to Wellington’s love affair with his “duty.” Although like Napoleon Wellington had extramarital affairs, he seemed less affectionate with his spouse Kitty and even his poor soldiers. At least Napoleon as the “Little Corporal” could evoke something like love from people, especially but not exclusively his soldiers.

And Napoleon was hapless rather than chilly towards his wives: his first adulteries with both wives occurred after they had been equally unfaithful to him. Before then he treated them both with devotion. His falling out with Josephine was over a huge theft combined with a huge extramarital affair. Not, like Wellington’s Kitty, she gave money to her alcoholic brother with good intentions but then needed more money from him to pay her bills. And Napoleon forgave Josephine even if it was never the same again. Andrew Roberts’ biography pretty much gives the details of times when other close friends made mistakes or even really did betray Napoleon when he forgave them and kept them on as friends. He refused to admit that his second wife had left him for another man when he was at St. Helena, where he lived banished at the end of his life.

Wellington never forgave Kitty for even the slightest things she did wrong–and this when before her fall from grace he had already had extramarital sex with another woman. About Wellington you can only say: what a cold hearted louse! About Napoleon one says, “He sinned big at times, and yet he was a human being who felt such emotions as filial and romantic love. He might not be better for Europe or France, yet of him like Brutus in Julius Cesar one might say,

This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar.
He only in a general honest thought
And common good to all made one of them.
His life was gentle and the elements
So mixed in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world “This was a man.”

Besides, Napoleon was so much more interesting than Wellington. In his youth he wrote novellas and essays, however badly written they were. And he was a voracious reader of more than just military matters. It was in studying from Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul to the works of Voltaire. That is why when traveling he wrote new law codes for the countries he conquered: and these law codes were more liberal than what the native stock had produced, allowing rights for Jews, for instance.

Wellington had no new ideas. He was simply talented as a general. In fact, his beliefs about society were all conservative. Wellington even as a general did not promote people without titles, and Napoleon did. His only decent quality was his rigid devotion to duty and the military virtues. Neither man was really motivated by humane considerations in his career, but the one who at least in person was more than an ice cube was Napoleon. Wellington’s own biographer says that Wellington’s relationship with his sons was “cold,” but so was the man. Napoleon, in a moment of introspection, admitted to his brother Louis that Louis was one of the few people he was able to love. Another similar person was his son. Napoleon was able to be a tender man to his son. Yet when Napoleon admits his cool temperament, it is sad, as though he wishes he did have more fellow feeling for other human beings. Did anyone ever get Wellington’s frozen heart to thaw?

Yes, for all that it is “un-American” to side with dictators, I prefer Napoleon the Conqueror to Wellington the “Lover of Duty.”

How to Cook a Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This year we had a pumpkin left over from Halloween that had–alas–not been made into a jack-o-lantern. Well, I decided to make a pumpkin pie out of it for Thanksgiving. (Happily it did not spoil from October 31 to November 22.) I got the pumpkin in the pumpkin pie recipe online and the crust was something I found in Cooks Illustrated Baking Book.

Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients for Crust

1/3 cup ice water

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoon stick butter (chop it up into 1/4 inch squares)

Ingredients for Pumpkin

1 medium sugar pumpkin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup honey, warmed slightly

½ cup milk

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Directions for Pie Filling and Crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Line a jelly roll pan with lightly oiled foil.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half; remove seeds. Lightly oil the cut surface. Place cut-side down on the prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until flesh is fork-tender, about 45 minutes. Cool until just warm. [I cooked the pumpkin 1 hour 15 minutes because it was a larger pumpkin than the recipe calls for.]
  4. As the pumpkin bakes, make the crust. Step 1 of this is to mix the water and sour cream.
  5. Mix the sugar, salt and flour from the crust recipe in a separate bowl.
  6. Then take the butter and kneed it into the flour mixture.
  7. Then pour into the butter-flour mixture the sour-cream-and-water.
  8. Then take the dough and press it into a large pie dish. There will be some left over.
  9. Then the pumpkin will come out of the oven.
  10. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F ( 205 degrees C).
  11. Scrape out pumpkin flesh. Mash flesh by hand in a bowl or purée in small batches in a blender.
  12. Blend together 2 cups pumpkin purée, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Beat in eggs, honey, milk, and cream. Pour filling into pie shell.
  13. Bake in the preheated oven until a knife inserted 1 inch from the edge of pie comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  14. Just a thought: take left over pie dough flatten in a pie dish or metal tin. Powder with cinnamon and sugar. Put in oven for 30 minutes or so and then take out for an extra pastry. Eat warm. My Grandma Alderson made pie dough this way when I was a child.

Beginning Thoughts on the Ideal

I have thought on and off about a question I long to read Hegel and Whitehead to further enlighten myself about–because I have only read some Whitehead and little Hegel, and yet I wonder if there ideas might be close to mine or at least enrich mine. I am not claiming to be that great a philosopher, but I always did want to be a philosopher and not just a writer; I longed to “capture God,” as V-ger wanted to in Star Trek I: The Motion Picture. I admit, I am more of a theological bent than I think Gene Rodenberry was, but I still want to create my own philosophy, however imperfect, of God.

So it is that I begin where another Blog left off. It claimed that the Paradox at the Heart of Scripture and the best Literature is one and the same: the way things ought to be (which I will call the Ideal) and the way things appear to be in reality (which I will call the Material). I call the second the Material and not the Real because the Ideal is real, and moreover I hope to work out some day the relationship between God and the “Ideal.”

For the moment, however, I will only say that humankind tries to explain and shape the Material by its understanding of the Ideal.  It does so even in scripture, in which God and Moses are the great Lawgivers.  Yet the Ideal transcends the Law: some Laws are changed or modified in later Rabbinic Thought to make them closer to the Ideal.  Yet as Whitehead discussed in his Adventures of Ideas, Freedom, for instance, begins as an idea until it is made into reality by humankind.  He claimed that Roman slaves longed to be free and Christianity spoke to this longing, because it gave them the hope that in the Afterlife they would be free.  Whitehead suggested that in the West—and it has largely happened, however today we are having relapses—would eventually become free.  True, he lacked the insight that this freedom might spread to places like China, India, and Africa. 

Yet what his insight does see is that the Ideal could be part of an unfolding History—to me the efforts of God to create a Just and Humane Society for Humankind.  Yet this does leave the question of why the Good Society has not come about—or why our society, which has at times approached the Good Society, is having severe relapses.

I have heard people speak contemptuously of a writer I read in college, Francis Fukuyama. I don’t really blame them: the Muslim author of Destiny Disrupted probably wondered where Muslims fit into the Great Dreams that are still conjured up by the West, and Walter Bruggeman probably is right that his views are a trifle chauvinistic in Theology of the Old Testament. Yet without being heartless they ignore the appeal of the book: it claims that there really could be a future age when human beings are prosperous, peaceful and free. This is the Hope present in Isaiah and the other “Old Testament” prophets. If we ignore it, we ignore some what is most moving about the Jewish faith (and I hope the Christian and Muslim ones). That is why, though I am not planning to read Fukuyama again, I want to read the real Hegel… and not just Whitehead or Marx (the latter of whom stole some of Hegel’s ideas while reworking them in an atheist fashion). I believe in Hegel’s talk of “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” he may speak movingly about those prophecies that did not come true and also the “Ideal,” (the vision of a future world of Justice and Peace).

A.A. Milne on Knighthood

I got sidetracked from reading the book I meant to finish today, Niels Lyhne. Maybe it is because I do not care for the book much. Yet I must finish it, and I suppose tomorrow I shall. What did I do instead today? Some grocery shopping, a trip to the dentist, eating out, watching TV, and making chocolate chip cookies. Then–instead of focusing on my “Swedish reading,” for the eventual A History of Frances Westin Williams–I picked up a book I had misplaced a while back and read pages 44-100 of A.A. Milne’s When We Are Very Young. A.A. Milne is the children’s writer who invented Winnie the Pooh. I don’t know the whole story–although I understand the real Christopher Robbins wrote in his memoirs the remarkable truth that he grew up to be a perfectly ordinary man. Anyway, A.A. Milne wrote a four book set that are his legacy for children:

Winnie the Poo;

The House at Pooh Corner;

When We Were Very Young;

Now We are Six.

I have now read the first three, as the book I had misplaced was When We Were Very Young, and I had already read the first two… Eventually I shall read Now We Are Six. In my reading today, I noticed a children’s poem I thought I would share. I hope the reader does not find me silly for doing so:


Knights and Ladies

There is in my old picture-book

A page at which I like to look,

Where knights and squires come riding down

The cobbles of some steep old town,

And ladies from beneath the eaves

Flutter their bravest handkerchiefs,

Or smiling proudly, toss down gages…

But that was in the Middle Ages.

It wouldn’t happen now; but still,

Whenever I look up the hill

Where, dark against the green and blue,

The firs come marching, two by two,

I wonder if perhaps I might

See suddenly a shining knight

Winding his way from blue to green–

Exactly as it would have been

Those many, many years ago….

Perhaps I might. You never know.

Yes I know; a child’s poem… and yet all of us wish for a piece of what exists in Malory’s Le Mortes de Arthur in our life. We don’t want to believe the plebian surfaces of things is all there is. My way of looking at it is that Great Literature tries to square the contradiction between life as it is and life as it ought to be… Perhaps that is why the Arthurian legends end on the tragic note of the death of Arthur but the hope of a return of the King which will lead to a goodness in society which was his original intent. Anyway, though it sounds like it claims a little much, I would say that “Knights and Ladies” both suggests that the ancient glory of Arthur is lost, but that it might be again. Though it satirizes with love, I claim as much about Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy”:

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing…

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing…

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

Despite the implication that Cheevy’s fantasy was fueled possibly by booze and that he was a little work-shy, too, Robinson portrays something of what it is to have a dream too big for this world. Maybe the Middle Ages weren’t that great, but in the imagination images of Camelot and characters like the Lady of the Lake loom large. And though he satirized it, Robinson loved the imagination. And similarly, so did A.A. Milne in his Winnie the Pooh books–including the one I read, When We Were Very Young, where Winnie the Pooh only makes his cameo appearance as a “teddy bear.”

A Writer Lives the Dream

All these years of struggling to be a professional author who makes real money are finally going to come true, and my chimerical-seeming dream will materialize. I will not give exact figures (that would be gosh), but I can see my ship coming in. So–if anyone is interested–I shall tell the tale of how I first published and the trajectory afterwards. I will, however, not name the publishers until I get to the big two at the end of the story…

I had the idea to write The Bible According to Eve at my workplace, Breakthrough, one day, when of all things I hallucinated and had an experience which would come to be the first poem. I did change things in my hallucination before writing it down… and I had the idea that I would write The Bible According to Eve, a book about every woman in the Hebrew Bible. It took years, and when I was threw I had over 1800 pages. Then I found an editor… the editor did little more than make sure I’d made no grammatical mistakes, but I guess it helped. Then, unsure of what to do with the book, I forgot it to work on other projects.

These projects would eventually include Faust in Love. I wrote it because of my distaste of Donald Trump, but the protagonist of the book is an anti-hero, lacking of the heroic qualities. When you meet him in the book he is studying Muslim science looking for the Elixir of Life. I hope it is clear that for all the “fun” he has had he is seriously afraid that someday the party will be over because he will die.

I also wrote a two book set about a character named Grace and her beloved Grandma Början, plus personalities like her “boyfriend” Prince Alfred of Wessex, come from back in time to meet her. The books were:

Grace: or, in Search of the Leviathan;

The Cycle of Ahriman.

The books are for adolescents… really, I wrote other books, too, but these books will come up again at the end of my blog.

Then one night I was online and found a “publisher” who took full manuscripts. I sent Faust in Love. They weren’t interested. But then I had a Eureka moment: I took The Bible According to Eve and split it into 4 books, writing frame poems for most of them. Then I sent this publisher The Bible According to Eve: Women of the Torah, the poetry about the Five Books of Moses. And they accepted it.

However, I would have to pay money. Mom, I knew, wouldn’t pay it. So I managed to scrounge of the money from my Disability Check and sent them what they needed to publish. Ultimately I would get a business credit card with American Express, which I would use as a slush fund to give publishers and ultimately agents (and even, in the end, an editor) money to proceed. Anyway, this first publisher told me it was something of a “half-way house” between traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Unlike an earlier book I wrote and self-published–Brazil–many of my friends were enthusiastic about The Bible According to Eve: Women of the Torah. My friend Steve asked me to sign his copy.

I did do things afterwards that I thought would help. I even paid to have my book reviewed and I paid for my book to be shown at book fairs as well as be shown in Hadassah Magazine and in Book Fairs… but a moment came along when another publishing company asked to publish my work… They asked me if I had any work like the The Bible According to Eve: Women of the Torah I could publish, and I said:

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im I: The Histories: Eve in Search of Adam;

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im II: The Seers: Eve Supplants Lilith;

The Bible According to Eve: Ketuvim: The Writings: Eve Struggles with God

and Man and Prevails.

We talked about publishing one of my novels, and because of Donald Trump’s being a force to reckon with in U.S. politics, and his being the main villain in Faust in Love, I sent them Faust in Love, which they published.

I sent different libraries–there were some that ordered my first book–an advertisement of my book… and I bought an ad in Hadassah Magazine.

Eventually I got a phone call from an agent who convinced me to give them a check but who has gotten me a publisher in Macmillan. Before signing the contract, I checked on-line and saw that Macmillan was one of “the top five publishers in the English language.” I will be getting a percentage of the royalties.

Then I got another publisher that was interested in Faust in Love, and he told me:

I had been shortlisted by several major publishers for Faust in Love. He said that my book—and this is useful to sell it—has gotten 1,842 “views” on-line. So people are interested. He has said that I am going to need to write a Query for Faust in Love… he also asked questions about the other people I have self-published with. The publisher I am selling Faust in Love to is Simon & Schuster! Plus he is sending my Grace Manuscript to a friend who helps sell YA novels. However, there is no guarantee that she will like the book.

I won’t tell you the exact amount I am getting for Faust in Love, but it is a six-digit figure. I will be paying a small amount for the editor who looks at Faust in Love first, and when I officially sign the contract I will have to go to New York City. As for The Bible According to Eve–although I signed the contract, I don’t know.

So I am very happy…

The Writing Business IV

I know it is a little like bragging to talk about book deals that have finally come my way at 42. Yet I am so thrilled that I want every friend and every friendly acquaintance to know. My 2nd agent–it is odd but I now have two, and perhaps (depending on how a third book is looked at) 3–says that I could get a three digit figure as a down payment on Faust in Love. He said the reason is the book is unique. More, it has gotten 1,842 “views” on-line at Amazon.com.  So people are interested.  Seth has said that I am going to need to write a Query for Faust in Love… I have written queries before. It’s not work I always enjoy, but at least I can do it well, I am sure of it.

Seth asked questions about Urlink.pub and other people I have self-published with. The publisher I am selling Faust in Love to is Simon & Schuster!

More, Seth is sending my novel Grace; or, in Search of the Leviathan to a friend who helps sell YA novels.  However, there is no guarantee that she will like the book. It is really nothing like Faust in Love and is for a completely different age bracket… the only surface similarity is that they both are fantastic: the devil and various angels play a role in Faust in Love and Grace; or, in Search of the Leviathan involves a collage of characters from a wicked fairy called Lilith to trolls to goblins to dragons.

The fun part of writing is the writing, even the editing is not as boring as people assume it is… but the business side of writing is the killer… Yet I believe I shall come out on top. As the Bible says Jacob was named after he wrestled with the angel, I feel I am one who “wrestles with man and God and prevails.”

The Bible’s Central Paradox

All of art, or at least most of it, lay on the same central contradiction of faith. If you read Ezekiel 18:2 (for those from the Jewish religion, forgive me for using the old JPS translation), it says:

What mean ye, that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge?

It is further stated emphatically that this is not the case afterwards; it is blasphemous to say God’s justice involves the punishment due to one generation will be visited on its’ children. Now forget that there are parts of the Mosaic code that disagree with this. Throughout the prophets there is a revolutionary idea that people are to be judged by their own deeds and not their parents. However, the verses imply that in real life a person never suffers for his parent’s sins but his own. Different Bible Scholars I have read claim this defect creates undo harshness towards sufferers because it claims “those who suffer suffer because they deserve to.” Certainly there are people, I am sad to say, who when a person suffers look first thing for how the sufferer deserves to suffer. It is a way of protecting the self, of saying, “If I am good nothing bad will happen to me.” Yet I hold that this was not the purpose of the rebuke towards those who say that parents and children are judged the same by God.

No, I believe that the real meaning of these verses is to say that it ought not to be that a child suffers because of his parents. There is a fight in the Bible between two impulses, which give the text its richness and life: the way the world is (where people suffer and evil thrives) and the way the world ought to be (where the just are rewarded and the wicked punished). In this world, as in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the orphan might grow up to be a fine human being, regardless of the road blocks Freud says lie ahead of him. The Bible cannot completely solve the riddle of why a Just God allows Injustice. Yet without its Just God, Injustice–so it insists–cannot be understood. The Bible in the greatness of its Messianic Heights insists someday the Paradox will be understood: the Great Goodness of the Creator, and the Unjust Suffering of so many, even if in today’s world suffering is not as great as in Biblical times.

In fact, the Bible gives a clarion call of hope: it says in the Prophetic Books and Jewish teachings, that our deeds bring about the Messianic Age. It is no impersonal force–ala Marx and to a lesser degree Hegel–that pushes us forward or backward, it is us. In fact, Martin Luther King quoted both his “Old Testament” prophetic books and his hymnal when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Yet a would-be prophet must listen as much to God as to him or herself. I mean even if he is a secular politician. I do not really know that I believe the Republican tendency to conflate religion and politics, but I do believe that to be in politics a person must be of sterner stuff than the current politicians are. I love the Harry Truman quote, “You can’t get rich in politics unless you are a crook.” Regardless of whether he was devout or not, his character is the kind of thing that matters to God.

In fact, that is one reason I am critical of Utilitarianism. It nearly all says that only the people who run society should be upright and decent, and that their goal is only that the populace be “happy.” I believe, contrarily to this, that a country in which the majority of the people cannot be trusted is a people in decline. The Romans declined because of their moral turpitude. Now, I do accept the Democratic Party’s maxim, “You cannot legislate morality.” However, I believe that parents and educators have a moral imperative not merely to produce happy children but good children. And in politics the character of a politician ought to speak as loudly as his views. It is actually the reverse of what J.S. Mills thinks: it is not a good politician who produces a good society, but a good society which produces a good politician. As much as I deplore Donald J. Trump and am lukewarm about Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary, I do not think the society that elected Lincoln would tolerate them. And for all its flaws, I believe that society was half right. If the man has no character, he does not belong in politics. The good society, if a Tammany Hall crops up, starts up to diligently tear it down. And eventually, God willing, it will fall.

The fight for the Good Society is not merely a fight for just laws but for good people. And in literature, the paradox is what induces thought into the nature of more than just society–it is into the nature of human beings. In Dickens’ Scrooge and Thackery’s Becky Sharp, we see the picture of what each author sees wrong with society. One character is a miser and the other an opportunist. Greed is what motivates both of them. It is by looking this deep into the human heart when it is evil that both men excelled. True, one managed to convert his evil doer while the other supposed there was no changing her, but both came to a remarkably precipitous view.

And greed is not a thing of the past. For all that he would probably eschew the role of the moralist, in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, he portrays the corrupt society of New York through the personality of a businessman. Similarly, when I wrote about Donald Trump, I hoped to encapsulate two evils which are common in our era: greed and lust. Yet I hope as unhopeful as the books ending was, there was a promise of redemption for Faust himself in my book Faust in Love. And, while trying to seduce the Virgin Margaret Kavanagh, college professor Dr. Faust… well, I will let you read the book.

The point is… in fiction as in scripture, there is the fight between how things are and how they ought to be. Nobody likes Leibnitz in Voltaire’s Candide. Voltaire deplores the philosophy that all suffering is deserved. Yet though not realistic, each of us longs for a little Leibnitz, too. We do not want to believe that for all eternity, the vices will flourish while the virtues go unrewarded. The irony is that Voltaire’s logic in Candide–that to live an abstemious life free from the injustices of society–was very far from how he lived his personal life.

Truman (you can tell he was a childhood hero) says pessimists don’t get things done; optimists do. I have a hard time being as optimistic as Truman, but he is right in what way: to succeed you need to believe that success is possible. That fact is the ultimate seal on the Paradox: to achieve the Good Society, we must work towards it, and that is even those of us not in politics. I will speak on some other date “how do I take part in creating the Good Society,” but for now I will simply say that the Bible and the best art do not allow that there are any “necessary evils” in our world. They want us to do something.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a passionate Civil Rights Advocate who walked alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King. However, he was passionate about the need to remake a Just World out of this World. The only thing he was irrational about was the chance of this project’s success… or the goodness of humankind to achieve it… nonetheless, my favorite of his books that I have read is not God in Search of Man but The Prophets. Heschel is moved by the Prophets and unsparing based on them… He believes not in comforting the comfortable but in calling on it to do more than mitzvoth. This man who was so careful in keeping Kosher and Shabbat knew that those things were not where it ended. I only add to his beliefs that if we cannot believe in humankind despite its moments of error, our belief in God will not be complete. We were made in God’s Image, after all.

Election Night in Kansas

I will admit that I am a Conservative Democrat. I am largely a liberal in things like economics, but in social issues I am some times conservative. I feel I am very patriotic and very religious, and these things go against the grain of those farthest to the left in the Democratic Party. At the same time, I dislike the racism of Trumpism (and the fact I still believe Trump committed treason), and I believe that a good society has an obligation to take care of all of its citizens, no matter how poor or ill or if they are in a racial minority. And of course, I am an environmentalist. So I am officially “purple” in politics. This election I voted for the Democrats on the ballet. Of course, on the surface my state, Kansas is a “red state.” I am not ashamed, but I do point to our Democratic governor and a few Kansas in the House of Representatives who are from Kansas. Of course, our senator Jerry Moran is a Republican.

Mom and I voted in the afternoon after she got home from a class she is taking with a friend. Then I went with her to grocery shop, where I picked up ingredients for a Asparagus Tarte but also potato chips, French Onion Dip and carbonated grape juice. I must confess that although I only eat the last of these three on special occasions (like election nights), French Onion Dip is only barely Kosher if it is at all. It has gelatin in it, which is a pork product. Of course, the Conservative movement says that gelatin is a permissible thing to eat… but I always feel a little guilty. As a Conservative Jew I always want to tread close to Orthodoxy in how I keep the laws even if I am more liberal in my beliefs. However, for some reason to really celebrate Election Night requires potato chips and dip.

At this moment, it is dubious who controls the Senate and House. What bothers me is that if there is a Republican majority in either house it will be a recipe for gridlock. I am not sure why, but I always imagine Republicans believe if they vote with Democrats, even to get things done, than it will hurt them at the election box. Perhaps Democrats appear to be that way to Republicans, I don’t know. I did not like it that Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin would also not vote with the party on things like the environment which are very important to me. I believe God gave us one world and I don’t think we shall ever have another… besides, Donald Trump undid good work to protect animals like gray wolves and grizzlies because he does not care about the possibility they might become extinct. I believe carbon emissions will destroy the place where we live, but I also believe that we cannot let elephants or polar bears go extinct either.

I wish Republicans would learn to bend. For all that I do not admire him, Nixon set up the EPA for good reasons. Other Republicans in the past have been willing to consider liberal ideas. Yet I know that there are social issues which I almost sympathize with them: I am not really fond of the 1619 Project and I never understood why kids had to give up Dr. Seuss or even Little House on the Prairie. George Washington and the Pioneers are still my heroes. I know: my Grandma Williams grew up at the turn of the 19th Century and she was a Swedish immigrant’s daughter and Pioneer Girl in a 1-room schoolhouse in Kansas. Grandma was my hero; she was even a flapper in college, and the first female editor of the Washburn School Journal in Topeka, Kansas. I hope that my love of the prairies both for environmental and historical reasons does not seem paradoxical.

The Writing Business III

I have good news for anyone who considers me a friend. I have signed an early contract with Macmillan. They are considered one of the “Big 5” publishers in the English language. The bugs are still being decided as to when the book will come out, and I believe a new cover will have to be designed and everything. This is a day I have been waiting a long time to see. On Wikipedia I read Macmillan’s impressive history of authors:

Charles Kingsley (1855), Thomas Hughes (1859), Francis Turner Palgrave (1861), Christina Rossetti (1862), Matthew Arnold (1865) and Lewis Carroll (1865), with the latter first meeting Alexander in London on 19 October 1863. Alfred, Lord Tennyson joined the list in 1884, Thomas Hardy in 1886 and Rudyard Kipling in 1890.

Other major writers published by Macmillan included W. B. Yeats, Rabindranath Tagore, Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Seán O’Casey, John Maynard Keynes, Charles Morgan, Hugh Walpole, Margaret Mitchell, C. P. Snow, Rumer Godden and Ram Sharan Sharma.

Beyond literature, the company created such enduring titles as Nature (1869), the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1877) and Sir Robert Harry Inglis Palgrave’s Dictionary of Political Economy (1894–99).

I hope someday I shall be remembered with these names–I remember telling an older friend in college, “I am very ambitious; I hope to be like Charles Dickens one day.” The friend said, “Yes, that is very ambitious.” Yet he seemed to believe I had good ideas even back then. He said he found Children of the Cat Goddess–when I first had the idea–a real mindbender. He always seemed to like that I was thinking. I guess I was…

I don’t want to think I write books that are simply sweet or charming… I want them to be tough intellectually… Yet I admit that when you write about religious themes, people assume that you are something I never felt I was: a proselytizer or a saint. I remember in college I had a teacher weird enough to use some of the Narnia series as our text book. I wouldn’t have minded if it were a class was a children’s literature class (and I can see the value in such a class) but I wondered if some of Lewis’s answers about his faith might only be convincing to a child. I mean, the books are imaginative, and I don’t blame Christians for liking them, but his best arguments have been made better by philosophers who, Christian or not, wrote their books in ways adults understand them. For instance, he argues that there is a morality inherent in humankind, that for the human being, there is an instinctual feeling that good and evil exist. I won’t argue the point, but Kant made a similar argument about the reason you could tell there was a God was because moral reasoning required one. I really thought Kant’s argument was cleaner, admitting that it did not refer directly to Christianity (and of course, Kant was a Protestant).

That being said, I do hope to write books for children, and have read some. Most of the children’s books I have written are collections of stories, but I am hoping to write one massive one Jeanie and the Gentle-Folk. It does have a raison d’être: the justification of both a mystical belief in a God who reveals himself in different ways in different cultures and also a justification of the moral stories that glue cultures together. In it–though I won’t reveal it here–I have a proof of sorts for the existence of God. I wish I could say another book I am going to work on (right before Jeanie and the Gentle-Folk) would appeal to children, but Mom and my friend Jamie both told me it would be more suitable for adults. So it was that Oz Revisited, an Odyssey into the imagination of L. Frank Baum, but the little adventurer is the grown up Dorothy Gale’s young daughter Rosie Hughes (Dorothy’s husband is Paul Revere Hughes). When I write about Baum’s ideas, I will explore whether his socialism, feminism, or pacifism are workable in the real world. I have my doubts, yet perhaps his fiery idealism does have something to say about real people, even though it is written about the world I portray Rosie, like Dorothy, of visiting.

Despite writing for children at times, and religion often, I hope people do take me seriously whether in books like The Bible According to Eve; Faust in Love (a novel satirizing Trump); Brazil partly rewritten; Poor Folk; and Tales of the Firebird.

Napoleon, Hero or Villain?

Andrew Roberts picks heroes men who go against the grain in America to celebrate. Well, okay: who doesn’t love Winston Churchill? But King George III? Or Napoleon, for crying out loud? Yet I am finishing Napoleon: A Life, and I find myself admiring a man I always assumed was a great rogue. I am on page 770 and there are 810 pages in Napoleon: A Life.  Yes, admiring him. Why? His energy and resilience, combined with his immense charisma. He could excite men into action, in a way I have never been able to do. Plus, he was a tactical genius, and a real workaholic on the battlefield. For him war was an art form. These days we are all supposed to be peaceniks, but I find myself incredulous at the cleverness, courage and industry of one of the most talented generals in human history.

And on one level I feel sorry for him and identify with him: he was never blessed with a woman who loved him, enough to be a faithful wife.  With neither his beloved Josephine nor her successor Marie Louise did he commit adultery first, and I cannot help wondering if his mistresses came close to meaning as much to him as they did.  It seems like a heartbreaking way to be lonely… except that it is how I am lonely.  It is odd, the cool, calculating mind of Napoleon had no power over his wives. On the other hand, he had 22 mistresses in all, so perhaps he was not too lonely.

            Like Napoleon with his empty marriages (his second wife defected when he lost his empire) I have lived without love, too.  I imagine that Napoleon’s answer about his wives would be similar to me, dissimilar though battle and writing are, “So what if I don’t have women’s romantic affections!  My life is adventurous, and I am a hero!  All of France is my family!” 

Should I never find the love of my life whom I long for, I shall go to my grave unrepentant, “So what if men are left cold by my beauty!  I have conquered the imagination!  In that I am more than Napoleon himself!  I am an American, and some day all other Americans shall read my novels and poems, and these books will be on bookshelves next to Hawthorne, Twain and Hemmingway!  My poems will be compared to Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson!” 

Of course, part of what may have driven the affection of women away from him may have been his misogyny. Napoleon said to Madame de Staël that the primary good of women was “to have many children.”  Yes, he lacked his characteristic charm where women were concerned.  Perhaps that is why he never found his true love.  With love there has to be mutual respect.  I guess there does, anyway.  I wouldn’t know. Perhaps in Heaven, I shall have tea with the Emperor (Napoleon) and ask him what he had against clever women when he was alive.